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Page last updated at 16:34 GMT, Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Pakistan faces loss of cricket tours

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad and Gordon Farquhar, of BBC Sports News, examine the probable impact of the Lahore attack on Pakistan's hopes of hosting international cricket fixtures in the future.

Sri Lankan cricketers are evacuated by military helicopter from Lahore stadium
Sri Lankan cricketers were evacuated from Lahore stadium by helicopter
The Lahore attack is not the end for Pakistani cricket, but it could be the end for the kind of high-profile international cricket in Pakistan that its fiercely loyal home crowds love to see.

Australia stopped touring there after 9/11, and all negotiations since then have failed to persuade them to return.

New Zealand, the West Indies, South Africa and India have all cancelled or amended fixtures with Pakistan over the past six years because of worries about security.

When India pulled out of a tour planned for January this year following the Mumbai terror attacks - blamed by India on Pakistani militants - Sri Lanka agreed to come to Pakistan in their place.

"Our friends, the Sri Lankans, came to rescue Pakistan in our hour of crisis," said Pir Aftab Shah Jillani, the Pakistani sports minister, bemoaning the fact that, this time, cricketers themselves have become the target.

Cricket in Pakistan is over for some years
Sarfraz Nawaz
Former Pakistan captain
Even before this latest outrage, Pakistan had been dropped as the host nation of the ICC Champions Trophy in 2009 because of security concerns after the attacks in Mumbai.

The cumulative impact of so much security-related disruption has not only damaged the sport's prestige but also hit it with a loss of revenue.

"Cricket in Pakistan is over for some years, I would believe," said former Pakistan captain, Sarfraz Nawaz.

Cash

Cricket's capacity for generating income in South Asia is unsurpassed.

Football, the obsession of pretty much every other sporting nation, takes a back seat.

In footballing terms, Pakistan is ranked 165 in the world, and 33rd in Asia, behind the likes of Tajikistan and Lebanon.

When it comes to drawing crowds, cricket is the only game in town - used to sell everything from toothpaste to satellite dishes - and there is nothing like a home series against the likes of England, India or Australia to fill stadiums.

PAKISTAN CRICKET TIMELINE
Sept 2001: New Zealand pull out of Pakistan tour following US military action in Afghanistan after 9/11 attacks; West Indies and Australia move games to neutral venues
May 2002: New Zealand cancel tour of Pakistan after explosion outside team's Karachi hotel
March 2008: Australia postpone tour of Pakistan on security concerns
Oct 2008: West Indies call off November tour of Pakistan on security concerns
Dec 2008: India pull out of 2009 Pakistan tour after government directive
Feb 2009: ICC's 2009 Champions Trophy tournament in Pakistan is called off after participants express security concerns

Pakistan will now have to content itself with playing abroad, either as the touring partner, or on neutral soil.

But such sanitised encounters cannot match the intensity of a proper series at Pakistan's famous venues in Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi or Faisalabad.

By losing visitors, the game's organising body, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) loses fees that foreign teams have to pay when they tour Pakistan. This can be as much as $300,000 (214,000) for each tour.

In addition, the PCB earns millions of dollars from selling marketing rights to sponsors such as banks and cell phone companies, and exclusive broadcast rights.

Recently the PCB sold TV rights to a network called 10-Sports, in the United Arab Emirates. The price for four years' coverage was a hefty $42m but that, officials say, is in now jeopardy.

'Friends'

Back in 1996, when the World Cup was hosted jointly by Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan, teams from Australia and the West Indies refused to play in Sri Lanka because of security concerns.

But Pakistan and India stuck by their South Asian neighbour and did go to Sri Lanka. It was partly out of gratitude for that gesture of solidarity that Sri Lanka went to Pakistan this time.

"Pakistan supported us in 1996," said Gamini Lokuge, the Sri Lankan sports minister, last month. "We will not forget our friends."

No-one could foresee then the bloodshed that lay in store.

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